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article imageReview: This week’s releases challenge traditions — part 1 Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Feb 6, 2019 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include a pleasing remake; an empowering yet unconventional heist movie; a Western with a different objective; a first in one of the longest running series; the missing link; and a maternal fairy tale.
Bent (Blu-ray)
Film Movement
Set amidst the decadence and terror of pre-war Germany, the film is based on the play by Martin Sherman. A chance encounter at a Berlin nightclub exposes Max (Clive Owen) and his partner Rudy (Brian Webber) as homosexuals during the "Night of the Long Knives" purge. After two years on the run, they are captured and put on a train to Dachau. Inside the camp, Max finds the will to survive through the help of a fellow prisoner, Horst (Lothaire Bluteau), and the two men develop an unbreakable bond.
Although Jews were the primary victims of the Holocaust, Hitler’s army targeted anyone they deemed undesirable, including homosexuals. This lesser-known fact is the subject of this moving narrative. Before the crackdown, even the most out gay Germans were living indulgent, extravagant lives. Max is carefree and confident, believing even the Nazis were not immune to his charms. Assigned to futile manual labour, Max does what he can to avoid going insane — including requesting a companion. In the camp, the film narrows its focus entirely to the two men and highlights their powerful performances. While some may be tougher to spot than others, there are numerous familiar faces in the film, such as Mick Jagger, Ian McKellen, Rachel Weisz, Paul Bettany, Jude Law and Rupert Graves.
Special features include: behind-the-scenes footage; cast and crew interviews; Mick Jagger "Streets of Berlin" music video; and new essay by Steven Alan Carr. (Film Movement)
The Cloverfield Paradox (Blu-ray)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Orbiting Earth on the brink of a devastating energy war, scientists prepare to test a device that could provide unlimited power… or trap them in a terrifying alternate reality.
Released last year on Netflix immediately following its announcement during the Super Bowl, this film unfolds in the greater Cloverfield universe and is a prequel to the theatrical movies. Floating in space where no one can hear you scream, a science crew encounters an unexpected problem while performing their experiment for the umpteenth time. After losing contact with Earth, weirder things start to happen on the ship, such as attacks by inanimate objects and an unexplainable stowaway. Closing the loop on this franchise, this sci fi picture explains why monsters invaded our planet while also introducing another great cast of characters played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Chris O'Dowd, Ziyi Zhang, Elizabeth Debicki and Aksel Hennie.
Special features include: making-of featurette; and “Shepard Team: The Cast.” (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Doctor Who: The Complete Eleventh Season (Blu-ray)
BBC Home Entertainment
The dazzling Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) falls out of the sky just in time to thwart an alien huntsman who is stalking human prey. With little time to spare and the population of Sheffield (and Earth!) at risk, the Doctor recruits three new friends — gentle Ryan (Tosin Cole), no-nonsense Yasmin (Mandip Gill), and Ryan’s step-grandfather, Graham (Bradley Walsh) — who soon feel more like family than companions.
This is the first season with a female Doctor and it’s as wonderful (if not more so) than the ones that came before it. Whitaker is the perfect combination of charm and quirkiness, exuding many of the qualities of Doctors before her while also making this version of the character her own. She’s clearly having fun, which is one of the things that has made past Doctors so memorable. Her new companions are equally great, each bringing a different personality to the mix and proving capable of featuring more prominently in certain episodes, such as when they travel back in time to visit Yasmin’s grandmother. There’s also a very politically and emotionally charged trip to 1955 Alabama days before Rosa Parks makes history. And while the Thirteenth Doctor doesn’t encounter any of the series’ classic villains this season, she does find a gruesome, repeat enemy of her own.
Special features include: commentary on select episodes; cast video diaries; “Becoming the Doctor”; “Regenerating Doctor Who”; “Directing Doctor Who”; “Friends of the Doctor”; “Everything You Need to Know about the TARDIS”; “Making the Theme Tune”; and “Best of Social.” (BBC Home Entertainment)
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
A cynical grouch (Benedict Cumberbatch) goes on a mission to steal Christmas from others only to feel his own heart grow three sizes larger through unexpected friendships.
Since the story begins nearly a week before the big day, there’s a lot of time to fill with planning and rehearsing. In the meantime, audiences also get to know Cindy Lou (Cameron Seely) and her family. Alongside her best friend, Groopert (Tristan O'Hare), she formulates a plan to trap Santa so she can deliver her wish in-person. There’s also Mr. Bricklebaum (Kenan Thompson), who is literally the happiest person in Whoville, and consequently Grinch’s worst enemy (in his miserable eyes at least). Nonetheless, the core of the story remains the same with a narrator (Pharrell Williams) delivering the classic rhymes with a few added but fitting lines to accommodate the additional story. Unlike the live-action version, this newly animated edition shares a lot of similarities with the original, which makes it more palatable. Although the only song to be completely carried forward into the narrative is “Welcome Christmas,” the traditional “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch” is present via an instrumental rendition that plays over appropriate scenes.
Special features include: “From Green to Screen”; “Illuminating The Grinch”; “My Earliest Grinch Memories”; “Grinchy Gadgets”; “Songs From His Little Heart”; “X-mas Around the World”; “Cindy-Lou's Yule Log”; “Any Who Can Draw”; “Who's Who in Who-ville”; “Yellow is the New Black” mini movie; “Dog Days of Winter” mini movie; “Santa's Little Helpers” mini movie; "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" lyric video; "I Am The Grinch" lyric video; and “Production Babies.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
I am Not a Witch (DVD)
Film Movement
When nine-year-old Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) is accused of witchcraft, she is exiled to a witch camp run by Mr. Banda, a corrupt and inept government official. Tied to the ground by a white ribbon, Shula is told that she will turn into a goat if she tries to escape. As the only child witch, Shula quickly becomes a local star and the adults around her exploit her supposed powers for financial gain. Soon she is forced to make a difficult decision — whether to resign herself to life on the camp, or take a risk for freedom.
This is a complex narrative of tradition, self-interest and sorrow. Audiences aren’t privy to what got the older women banished to the camp, but it’s clear from the start that Shula is falsely accused. Banda poses as an official doing his duty, but he’s really just a profiteer brandishing a camp of “freaks” to tourists when they’re not being loaned out for manual labour. He seizes on Shula almost immediately as she presents a more appealing attraction for his roadshow. Mulubwa is incredibly stoic for such a young age, often displaying her sadness through unstoppable tears while never changing her expression. Viewers should not pass on the opportunity to watch the included short film as it even better demonstrates director Rungano Nyoni’s talent for storytelling.
Special features include: “Interview with director Rungano Nyoni”; and “Mwansa the Great” short film. (Film Movement)
Lu Over the Wall (Blu-ray & DVD)
GKids & Shout Factory
After his family moves from Tokyo to a small fishing village, teenager Kai spends his days sulking and adrift. When his classmates invite him to play keyboard in their band, their jam sessions bring an unexpected guest: Lu, a young mermaid whose fins turn to feet when she hears the beats, and whose singing causes humans to compulsively dance. But when an ancient prophecy threatens Lu and the village, Kai and his new friends must save the day.
There’s a lot going on in this animated narrative, though it’s all quite interesting. Kai is a talented musician, but he’s not interested in any social interactions until Lu peaks his interest. The fishing village built its tourism strategy around the mermaid legend and its residents claim the evil creatures have taken their loved ones for decades. Meanwhile, Lu is carefree and playful with little comprehension of what her arrival could mean for her species. It plays across the spectrum from fun to alarming to sad as Kai befriends Lu and does his best to protect her. Lu’s father’s fish prep lessons and her own blithe dance steps are very entertaining, while audiences can only hope everything works out as the story approaches its inevitable climax. It’s a little choppy, but does well to tie everything together.
Special features include: commentary by director Masaaki Yuasa; “Interview with Director Masaaki Yuasa”; and trailers. (GKids & Shout Factory)
Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (Blu-ray & DVD)
Shout Factory
Though only 15, Maquia knows she will live for centuries without aging past adolescence. She belongs to the Iorph, a clan of ageless beings just like her. Maquia's elders warn her not to fall in love with anyone outside their realm, lest she wish to encounter true loneliness in the end. But fate pushes Maquia out into the mortal world one night, when an invading territory separates her from the clan. There she discovers an orphaned baby, Erial, and takes him in as her own child. From this point, Maquia will suffer extreme heartbreak in the name of motherhood, as she watches Erial grow and seeks to reconnect with her lost Iorph friends, all torn apart by the cruel world of Mesate.
This is a true fairy tale of immortal beings, mystical lands, flying dragons, love and war. Maquia lived a sheltered childhood, so when she’s ejected into the world she doesn’t know where to start — and she immediately disregards the elders’ counsel by falling in love with a human baby. A large section of the story is dedicated to Maquia’s trials as a mother as she sacrifices everything to protect Erial. Then, when he’s grown, she’s presented with an opportunity to regain some of what she lost. In addition, her maternal experience is juxtaposed with another’s and the heartbreaking choices they make. The brief glimpses of the battle are brutal as death is paralleled with the birth of new life. It’s an engrossing, beautiful animated film in which difficult choices are always lurking.
Special features include: making-of featurette; and trailers. (Shout Factory)
Mermaid: Lake of the Dead (Blu-ray)
Scream Factory
Once a young woman sent to a tragic and watery grave, she has since become something unholy. Cursed to swim the waters in which she met her untimely death, the mermaid has risen once again. This unspeakable wraithlike creature hungers for love — and has set her hook for Marina's (Viktoriya Agalakova) fiancé, Roman (Efim Petrunin). The bond between Marina and Roman is steadfast and true. But if you spurn the mermaid, she'll punish you and take from you that which you love most. Now locked in a desperate battle with pure, undying evil, Marina must overcome her fear of the dark water to save all that she holds dear from a terrifying fate.
There isn’t much to indicate the cursed woman is a mermaid, except that she is connected to water and can mesmerize men. Physically, she looks like a sodden woman or, on occasion, a shrieking monster. In any case, the Russian horror picture combines mermaid myth with ghostly rules as the creature attaches itself to its prey, and torments him and those close to him until he submits or dies. The reason Roman encounters the mermaid is problematic and there are other issues with how some of the story unfolds, as it’s either too convenient or unlikely. But the mermaid is creepy and her effect on men is disturbing, though not always as expected.
There are no special features. (Scream Factory)
Check out the rest of this week's reviews in part two.
More about The grinch, Cloverfield Paradox, Doctor Who, Mermaid Lake of the Dead, Maquia When the Promised Flower Blooms
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